Poll: Gov. Hutchinson Leads Jan Morgan Among GOP Primary Voters

Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaking during the 2014 campaign season.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A new survey of likely Republican party primary voters in Arkansas shows that Gov. Asa Hutchinson has a nearly two-to-one lead over over challenger Jan Morgan.

The latest Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll of 676 GOP voters puts Hutchinson with 57.5% support compared to Morgan’s 30.5%. Twelve percent (12%) are undecided. The poll was conducted on April 17-19 and has a margin of error of +/-3.8%.

“The governor’s lead is comfortable, but perhaps not as comfortable as he would like,” said Roby Brock, Talk Business & Politics Editor-in-Chief. “With a month to go, I expect to see Hutchinson use his considerable financial advantage over Morgan to further remind primary voters of his conservative bona fides.”

The survey asked a head-to-head matchup question for the Republican governor’s nomination and it asked a question related to Arkansas Works, the state’s Medicaid expansion program.

Jan Morgan speaking on Talk Business & Politics in March.
Credit Talk Business & Politics

Q: If the Republican primary election for Governor was being held today and the candidates were Jan Morgan and Governor Asa Hutchinson, for whom would you vote?

30.5% Jan Morgan
57.5%  Governor Asa Hutchinson
12%     Don’t Know

Q: As you may know, Arkansas instituted a program using federal Medicaid dollars to provide private insurance to low-income Arkansans through health care exchanges. The program is now called “Arkansas Works.” Do you support or oppose the Arkansas Works program? 

41.5%   Support
25.5%  Oppose
33%     Don’t Know

The winner of the Republican gubernatorial primary will face either Democrat Jared Henderson or Leticia Sanders and Libertarian Mark West in the November general election. On Monday, survey results will be released on President Donald Trump approval ratings among Arkansas GOP voters and on Tuesday a battery of questions regarding taxes, guns and abortion will be released.

ANALYSIS
Dr. Jay Barth, professor of political science at Hendrix College, helped craft and analyze the poll. He offered this analysis, plus a video interview appears with Barth at the end of this post:

Governor Asa Hutchinson appears on his way to re-nomination in the May 22 primary. However, our polling suggests that the size of his win will be shaped by the composition of the Republican electorate.

Governor Hutchinson is dominant with the type of voters who have traditionally participated in GOP primaries. Jan Morgan is decidedly stronger with those who have been drawn to the party over the last couple of years by President Donald J. Trump. There is little doubt that the traditional Republican voters will show up to participate in the primary next month. The key question is whether the new Trump voters show up to vote without the President on the ballot. If they do, Morgan could close the gap with the Governor significantly.

Examining the crosstabs in the gubernatorial primary, Governor Hutchinson dominates with older voters (he has 71% of the 65+ vote), with the best educated voters (he gains two-thirds of voters with a post-graduate degree), with urban and suburban voters (he is over 60% of the vote in both the Second and Third Congressional District), with churchgoers (he wins 63% of those who attend church at least weekly), and with women (he leads 61%-26% with women).

Conversely, Morgan does best with younger, less educated, rural, more secular, and male voters. In the Republican universe, these are the voters drawn into the party and energized by Trump.

One clear division between the gubernatorial candidates is on Arkansas’s distinctive form of Medicaid expansion—now called Arkansas Works. While Republican voters historically were dubious about Medicaid expansion (a 45% plurality of Republican voters opposed the “private option” in January of 2014, when Governor Beebe was still governor), GOP voters have shifted towards plurality support for the program rebranded and redesigned in the Hutchinson era.

Those planning to vote for the Governor in the primary support the program by a 48%-18% margin while Morgan supporters oppose it by a less-lopsided 44%-35% margin. While plurality support is shown across most subgroups of GOP voters, support is highest among the oldest and youngest age groups, among the best and least educated voters, among more secular voters, and among Second District voters (with 48% of the central Arkansas GOP voters supporting the program).

There is also a gender gap on the program. While support for the program is similar between men and women, opposition to the program is 10 points higher among men.

Just like the Republican party nationally, the Arkansas GOP is a party divided between the establishment and populist pro-Trump wings. That is playing out in the 2018 Republican governor’s race. For the moment, Governor Hutchinson’s deep history with the party is protecting him against the populist revolt. His war chest that he is about to unload on paid media will likely further protect him against the out-gunned (pardon the pun) Morgan. But, the battle between the two camps is real.

Robert Coon is a partner with Impact Management Group, a government relations and communications firm that works with GOP and independent candidates. Coon is also a Talk Business & Politics contributor. He offered this analysis:

Governor Asa Hutchinson is solidly positioned to win the Republican nomination for Governor on May 22nd.  At 57.5%, Hutchinson will likely increase his 27 point margin over Morgan during the final weeks of the campaign.

Hutchinson performs particularly well with several key voting demographics, including older voters, women, and frequent church attendees. He has a significant lead over Morgan (70.8% to 18%) with voters 65 or older, and is seeing strong support from women (61%) compared to Morgan (25.7%). Hutchinson performs notably better among regular church goers, leading Morgan 63.2% to 25.6% with voters who indicated that they attend church services at least weekly.

Hutchinson’s strongest support geographically resides in CD 2 (65.4%) and CD 3 (60.4%), with softer support in CD 1 (52.5%) and CD 4 (52.7%). Yet Morgan has failed to capitalize in those areas by increasing her share of the vote much beyond her statewide average.

Morgan’s discontent-driven campaign has hit a ceiling with the electorate, and is reminiscent of Curtis Coleman’s anti-establishment runs against Hutchinson in 2014 and Senator John Boozman in 2016 – both of which finished below 30%.

The Arkansas Works program continues to see the support of a plurality of Republican primary voters, yet a large share (33%) don’t have an opinion.  Support for Arkansas Works is largely consistent across age groups, with a slight increase in support among voters over the age of 65 (44.6%). Men (41.8%) and women (41.6%) maintain equal levels of support for Arkansas Works, though opposition to the program is higher among men at 31.6%.

When examining educational attainment, the program receives its strongest support from voters who did not complete high school (66.7%) and voters with a post-graduate degree (46.9%). There could be some correlation among these voter groups with Arkansas Works enrollees and medical professionals respectively, as both would see direct benefits from the program and likely hold it in higher esteem.

Finally, the Arkansas Works numbers are buoyed by a higher level of support in CD 2 (48.4%) where the healthcare system makes up a sizable portion of the district’s economy.

METHODOLOGY
This survey of 676 Republican voters was conducted on Tuesday-Thursday, April 17-19, 2018. The poll, which has a margin of error of +/-3.8%, was completed using IVR survey technology. Respondents were chosen from a random sample of Arkansas GOP primary voters who voted in at least two of the last three primary elections and whom indicated their likelihood to vote this year. Age was weighted.

Age (weighted)
6%   Under the age of 30
17.5% Between the ages of 30 and 44
37% Between the ages of 45 and 64
39.5% 65 or older

Ethnicity 
1% Asian-American
3% African-American
1% Latino
88% Caucasian or White
7% Other

Gender
45% Male
55% Female

Church Attendance
69% At Least Weekly
24% Occasionally
7% Never

Education
4% Did not complete high school
22% High School Graduate
32% Some College
25% Graduated College
17% Post-Grad Degree